Sunday, November 1, 2015

8:An Animal Alphabet

Now that Frances and Gloria are fairly fluent readers, we tend to use our reading time differently than we have in the past.  We are still reading tons of picture books together, but we do much more "participatory" reading than we ever have before.  Both girls are good readers, but I selfishly still want to read to them to h.  One of the things I'm seeing about both girls these days is that they don't have the reading stamina to tackle the longer books they want to read.  Frances particularly tries lots of books without success because she wants to read that book, but can't get through the longer chapters.  We tackle this with a number of strategies.  Frances and Gloria often take turns reading the dialogue in picture books.  If I am reading with just one of them, we often alternate pages so they can build up confidence on longer picture books and nonfiction.  I encourage Frances and Gloria to check out as many books as possible, even if they don't finish them (I've learned to ignore comments from the circulation clerks at the public library!).  This ends up being a combination of picture books, nonfiction, longer and shorter chapter books and graphic novels.  I've found that having a big pile of books means they 'll often find something they are eager to stick with.  And I reserve lots of books for us to explore together.  The more engaged they are with a book, the more likely they are to take it to bed with them that night, reading it over and over.  We pay lots of overdue fines, but it's worth it!

This is what happened when I brought home 8: An Animal Alphabet.  Cooper has created a deceptively simple plot in 8.  The book starts with an informational page, which is crucial in such a stark book as this.  He explains that on each page there will be eight of one particular animal.  Cooper footnotes the reasons why there are eight: "Because 8 is great.  Because 8 is round and adorable....Because 8 is my favorite number."  This explanatory page also references the back matter, which I love.  He tells you right up front that there is a section called "Did You Know?' to help identify animals.  I'll talk more about the back matter later, but I wanted to mention that Cooper points a reader's attention to the back matter right away.  I find it discouraging when you spend time struggling through a piece of nonfiction, only to discover once I've finished it that there was something in the back (most times a map) that would have helped me.  Maybe that's my own shortcoming as a reader, but I like to be reminded up front that there is information that I might need.

And I was surprised at how often we referred to the "Did You Know?" section as we read 8:An Animal Alphabet.  This book is a unique combination of concepts - it is definitely an alphabet book (it's in the name, after all!), but it's also a counting book.  Each page includes a large set of capital and lowercase letters in an easy to read font (Century Gothic for those of you who are curious).  Along the bottom of each page is a list of the animals which are included on that page, in alphabetical order.  As I mentioned earlier, there are eight of one particular animal on each page.  But the eight don't all look identical .  The newts, for instance, range in color, size, thickness and stripes or polka dots.  So it can be challenging to find the complete pack. On the panda page, children have to decide whether to count the mother-baby pair as one or two pandas.  It requires a little bit of analysis from the reader.

We used the book mostly as a seek and find type of book - racing to see who could find the tick or tarantula first.  And there were times that we needed the "Did You Know?' section for reference.  Cooper is careful to use a diverse mix of creatures, and I wasn't clear on the difference between an ibex and an impala, or whether an upupa  was a bird or a mammal.  When we consulted the "Did You Know?" section , there was one fact about every animal, again in alphabetical order.  There is also a thumbnail recreation of Cooper's illustrations so readers can match the animal with the larger page.  It was very useful, and even I learned facts such as that snails are more active at night or that rats can tread water for three days (shudder!).

Elisha Cooper, whose book Homer I featured here, has an illustration style that is well suited to an alphabet of animals.  He has a detailed, realistic style so it's clear what the specified animal really looks like.  All of the pages have a white background, and the animals stand out in crisp relief.  While there can be up to twenty animals on the page, they aren't interacting with each other either.  They are scattered around each page, but with the white space and lack of interaction, there is also a museum feeling about each page.

That museum quality to this book is also what gives it appeal to a wide audience.  This isn't a cutesy, themed concept book.  8: An Animal Alphabet  doesn't even have any text other than the listing of animal names.  It feels elegant and will be attractive to a wide range of readers.  It will be a great book for kids who know about animals and want to learn more.  And of course, I have to mention that I love it because Cooper included my favorite bird in this alphabet of animals - the kakapo!

8:An Animal Alphabet.  Elisha Cooper.  Orchard Books, 2015.

borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Yard Sale

I have made my fair share of moves in my life.  While I lived in the same house for more than 15 years while growing up (all of my childhood memories involve that house), I have spent the rest of my life changing houses every two or three years.  Sometimes it's been just moving across town, sometimes it's been moving across the country.  And if I've spent most of my adult life moving, Frances and Gloria have made many moves as well.  In Gloria's seven years, she has lived in five places!  And while the circumstances that we moved in haven't always been the happiest, the girls have always learned to love something about each new place - our neighbors, our backyard, the neighborhood playground.

In Yard Sale, Callie's family is moving.  They are moving from a house on a cul-de-sac to an apartment with a Murphy bed.  It's a big change, and because they are moving to a much smaller place, they won't need all of the furniture they currently have.  So Callie's parents host a yard sale.  On the very first page, Callie states "Almost everything we own is spread out in our front yard.  It's all for sale."  You can immediately see how Callie feels about the move.  She sits on their front steps, chin in her hands, totally dejected.  Her life is changing and it's clear she is not comfortable with what is about to happen.  The family goes to look at the new apartment, and Callie says "'It's all nice.'...But it didn't feel like ours."

On the day of the sale, Callie feels even more uncertain.  She sees a woman haggle over her headboard because there are crayon marks on it.  She cries when a man buys her bike, even though her dad reminds her that they don't have room to ride the bike outside the apartment.  Callie tries to participate in the sale cheerfully, but she thinks "I hate people buying our stuff.  It's not fair."  She doesn't want to move, but knows she has to.  She doesn't have any choice in the matter.

And her parents feel the same way.  One of the most beautiful and poignant things about this book and the collaboration between Bunting and Castillo is how easily you can surmise how torn the parents feel about this move too.  The parents' emotions aren't the focus of this story, Callie's emotions are.  But their complicated feelings are so crucial to how Callie deals with the move.  They are trying to make the best of a bad situation by pointing out the cool Murphy bed in the new apartment, even if Callie doesn't accept their overtures.  As the sale winds down, exhaustion takes over her parents.  "Anything that's left my dad is selling cheap.  He and my mom look droopy.  My dad is rubbing my mom's back."  In the picture, they look like they are holding each other up at this point in the day - sad, tired and uncertain.

Then something happens that shifts everyone's attention.  A woman comes up to Callie, who is slumped over, waiting to be done with the day.  "'Aren't you just the cutest thing?' she says, smiling.  'Are you for sale?''  While I'm sure the woman meant it in a friendly or funny way, it was the exact wrong thing to say to a little girl who already knows that this move has to do with money, and the her family is downsizing.  Will they get rid of her, too?  Callie has a moment of sheer panic, and "A shiver runs through me, from my toes to my head."  She is a little hysterical as she goes to her dad, who reassures her that he won't sell her, "'Not for a million, trillion dollars.'"  The illustration here focuses on Callie wrapped tightly in both parents' arms.  All of the busy movement around them at the sale falls away as they take comfort in each other, and feel each other's sadness.

The story ends with Callie's acceptance of the move, now that she has been reassured.  She notes "'s OK because we don't really need anything we've sold.  And those things wouldn't fit in our new place anyway."  Perhaps the biggest reason that Callie is becoming more accepting of the move is due to what she realizes on the very last page.  "But we will fit in our new place.  And we are taking us."  She has a newfound knowledge that their family won't change, and that is the most important part.

This change is hard on Callie in a number of ways.  One of those ways is that she feels like she is losing many of the things that are her history.  For instance, the woman who haggles over the headboard with the crayon marks doesn't have any idea that those marks were how Callie counted the number of times she read Goodnight Moon.  And it is clear to Callie that the woman doesn't appreciate her crayon marks at all, that Callie's history actually devalues the headboard.  She decides to give her best friend her heart necklace because Callie knows that her friend Sara will appreciate the necklace.

There is a delicate interplay between adults and child in Yard Sale.  As I've mentioned before, her parents' attempt to make the best of a trying time leads to Callie's conflicted emotions.  They are trying their best to keep everything positive, but their body language tells another story.  Once they all admit their mixed emotions, the little family can move on, together.

This was the story that started off my Lauren Castillo-fest this fall.  I read a blog post that mentioned Yard Sale and I then proceeded to check out as many of the books that she had written and illustrated as I could.  That's why I also reviewed What Happens on Wednesday in September.  I love Castillo's illustrations overall - I love the families she depicts.  They are real - sometimes frumpy, sometimes sad, but not afraid to show their imperfections.  It makes me feel like I can relate to these families, whether or not my family resembles the one on the page.  They are real.  The colors she uses here are soft (but not necessarily pastels) and lend tenderness to the book.

Yard Sale is one of those moments that many children will feel strongly about.  They may have moved, they may have had a yard sale to get rid of excess stuff.  Frances and Gloria have done both, and could relate to how Callie felt.  Children may also remember a time when things in their own family were not so certain.  Whatever the situation, Yard Sale is a book that celebrates the staying power of family.

Yard Sale.  Eve Bunting; illustrated by Lauren Castillo. Candlewick Press, 2015.

borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library

Monday, October 19, 2015

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon Wrap-Up

So even though it is Monday, and the 24 Hour Readathon technically ended more than 24 hours ago, I'll do a quick wrap-up post in case you're interested in how the rest of my reading day went. 

When last I left you, I was on my way to the library to pick up holds and drop off overdue books.  There were a lot of both:

These are all my holds, right after I returned from the library.  Then the girls' dad let me know it was time to pick up Frances and Gloria.   Then Albert and his dad came over.   And essentially the day got away from me.  I had read about 6.5 hours before the library visit.  I only read about another 1.5 hours that night before bed, so in essence I got about 8 hours of reading in during the 24 hour period. 

At first, I was really disappointed by the amount of reading I got done - only 8 hours!  I was comparing it to the 24 hour total, and thinking I had only read a third of the time. But then I realized I was thinking about this all wrong - I got in 8 hours of reading in one day!  That's pretty amazing for me.  And my reading got me past two books during the readathon (I also read about 150 pages of Furiously Happy) that I had been trying to finish all week.  It was a big deal to have moved past them.

Another thing that was fun about this particular Readathon is that many of my friends and family on Facebook read along with me, or shared what they had read, even if it was only for a few minutes.  It was a great way to acknowledge the community of reading.  And a lot of fun to encourage each other. 

So all in all, I will try to do the Readathon again, as often as I can.  While I didn't finish my TBR pile, who does??  It was still a worthwhile investment of my time and energy!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Perfect Fifths - Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon

So here I am, about two hours later, and I've finished another book from my To Be Read pile. 

This is my second time reading through the Jessica Darling series, which ends with Perfect Fifths.  While I wasn't totally satisfied with the story - much of it recreates Jessica and Marcus' first conversation after breaking up three years before - I was ultimately satisfied with this book as an ending to the series.  And now that I am thinking about it, maybe it was an accurate recreation of that first awkward conversation - where you don't want to say too much, but are trying to summarize what's gone on in your life while the other person has been absent.

Now that I've finished two books from my To Be Read pile, I am wondering if I'll be able to read beyond what I had originally planned.  I still feel pretty fresh, and am loving the feeling of checking books off my list.  We'll see how the rest of the day goes.  The girls will be home at some point this afternoon, but will be pretty worn out, so they may be willing to lay low tonight and watch a movie. 

Now off to the library to pick up some holds and return these overdue books!

The Magician's Land : Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon

Well, I think I am in hour four (?), five (?) - it is getting a little blurry - of the readathon, and I just finished The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman. 

I am not going to do much review of this book - mostly because it is the third in a series, and it would give too much away to say much.  But first I will say that this series is for adults, and has some really interesting concepts and feelings in it.  I actually wished that I had reread the other two books in the series (The Magicians and The Magician King) because it had been a few years since I read them.  This book definitely needs the other two books with all of their history, which I loved!  It was 400 pages long, and I had read about 100 pages before I started today.  I think this is the longest book I will attempt today (although A Court of Thorns and Roses is pretty long too), and it feels great to have finished it.

So far in the readathon, I've been taking a break after 45 minutes of reading to get up and do something else - eat, take a shower, etc.  It's helped me stay focused on my reading the rest of the time (another good tip from the guest posters at Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon.  I know there is no way I'll make 24 hours of reading, but I feel pretty good so far. 

On the snack front, I ate toast for breakfast early this morning, and then had the last of the smores cupcakes (recipe here).  Those cupcakes are so delicious I can hardly stand it!  Right now I am making Chex mix and it's almost done, but that is really for the girls - just doing it while I had time.

Back to the reading - going to read Perfect Fifths now and then make a library trip when I'm finished.  See you soon!

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon!

I am just getting ready to start Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon!  I participated in this last spring, without being super official about it, and the fall one turned out to be on a day that I could read a lot of the day (at least that's what I hope!).  Today is Gloria's 7th birthday, but the girls are celebrating with their dad today, so I should have a chunk of time to read.

For those of you who are new to the blog, and visiting from the readathon, here's a brief introductory meme - I am reading in Helena, Montana, where the weather is supposed to be in the low 70's!  It's going to make it hard to keep reading, but we'll see how I do!  Here's my To Be Read pile:
I'm planning to read the following books - The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas, All Hail the Queen (Anna and Elsa), Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty, and Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.  I'm also hoping to write a blog post about Yard Sale today and make a trip to the library at some point to pick up some holds!

A few words about my To Be Read pile - you can see from the picture that most of these are library books... my library pile has been getting a little out of hand in the past couple of weeks, and I need to return some of these that are overdue.  So I am concentrating on the library piles today!

But as you may also know, I am on the panel for the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Books Cybils award, so I will be trying to do some reading for that too, which is why the Anna & Elsa book is there.  Most of my reading for the panel involves the girls, but we've had a hard time getting into this one, so I'll read it today and go back to it later with them if I think it's worth it!

The Dewey blog had some great posts in the lead-up to this readathon, and one of them recommended getting all of your cleaning done ahead of time so it wouldn't distract you.  I spent last night cleaning and getting groceries, so I am ready to start!  Actually, I got most of the cleaning done, and may vacuum as a break later.  I'm hoping to read about 12 hours today - again, depending on when Frances and Gloria come home, and how the day goes.  But I am kicking it off early this morning.  I'll report back throughout the day.

Thank you for reading with me!!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

What Happens on Wednesday

As a single mother to Frances and Gloria, I have very specific routines.  None of us do well when we are not on a routine.  The girls feel secure knowing what will happen next, what will happen tonight or tomorrow.  Those routines keep us organized, keep us going, but can also frankly be exhausting.  Sometimes we trudge through the routine only because we are used to its predictability.  On the blog Mommy Shorts, Ilana has created a series called Wednesday Evenings in partnership with Allstate, and I love seeing it.  She chose all kinds of families, and sent a photographer to document their routines (there was also a series documenting family mornings too).  I find it so soothing to read this series - we are all in the same boat, where we do homework, eat dinner, read and give baths, no matter where we live or what we look like.

What Happens on Wednesdays is all about family routine.  The preschool girl who narrates the story begins with this line: "What happens on Wednesdays is I wake up when it is still dark out."  The mother in me groans at that idea, but there is the little girl, being swung out of her bed by her mother.  The other thing I love about this first page?  When the mom tries to kiss her daughter and is informed " is not a kissing day."  And with that statement, they are off.  The little girl revels in the structure - "Then she drinks her coffee and I drink my milk and maybe we have some strawberries while we read stories on the couch."  Even though this book shows one particular Wednesday, you get the feeling that for this little girl Wednesdays are blissfully similar.

After they wake up her dad, he takes his daughter out to the park to play before school.  Her mom has already gone to work on her computer in the back room of their apartment.  Another very developmentally appropriate thing about the narrator is her love of detail.  They don't just head off to school, they "walk past the store with the toy mouse you can ride for a quarter."  If you know any preschoolers, you are familiar with how long it takes them to recount something that has happened to them.  It is never straightforward and simple, the way busy adults prefer.  Instead their stories are embellished with all the details that they have noticed, all the details that are important to them.  And the details the little girl reports give color to her world.  When she and her mom stop at the library that evening, after swimming, she notes that it "has a stuffed duckling that's big enough to ride on.  There are shelves of scary grownup stories that spin around if you push them."  These are the details that make up our lives and that Jenkins celebrates here.

The day has many components to it - the morning routine, the school day, the afternoon (books, nap, swimming), and evening.  Sometimes the little girl notes where things are the same as every other day of the week - she lists out the school day schedule and then comments "Which  is the same on Wednesdays as any other day."  Or sometimes she explains what's different about Wednesdays: "What happens on Wednesdays is Daddy comes home early."  The routine is predictable but still has some flexibility in it.  "I put Band-Aids on Looga, my stuffed elephant or I make a puppet show, or I build a swimming pool of blocks, or I go through the laundry and try on grown-up clothes.  It is different every Wednesday." The other thing this daily routine helps the little girl manage is what is expected of her.  She knows that in the above quote, she is playing by herself while her mother cooks her dinner.  She must come up with a way to keep herself occupied until dinner is ready.

I noticed too that the parents are depicted having a very easy teamwork.  They often tag team in caring for their daughter.  I'm sure the handoff isn't always as seamless as it seems here, but while her mom gets up with her, her dad does school drop-off.  Her mom spends the afternoon with her and then her dad puts her in the bath after dinner.  "And what happens on Wednesdays is I can pick who puts me to bed.  So I pick Daddy."  The routine is very tied to her parents.  The book has a cozy feeling of family love in it - they are focused on their little girl's needs, but there are still other things going on.  They make dinner, return library books, empty the dishwasher - all those "other" tasks that need to be completed.

Lauren Castillo's illustrations for this story suit it perfectly.  Readers can look at any page and know exactly what's going on, even if their family doesn't look the same.  The routines depicted here are universal and comforting.  And the illustrations are packed full of the details the narrator finds so important.  There is the mom getting her daughter out of bed, still in her own pajamas.  Once the little girl pulls her dad out of bed, they go down to pick up the newspaper.  The dad is sporting mismatched pajamas and slippers as they head back up.   While the mom gets dressed and tidies up, the dad stays rumpled and unshaven all day (although he does change out of his pajamas!).  The illustrations work perfectly with the text to create that feeling of real, authentic family life.

While Wednesday isn't a special day - not a holiday or a day to be celebrated - it is a day full of love.  It is every day and yet it's a day that will be documented and remembered thanks to this lovely story.  I love the celebration of family life - it was comforting to the girls and to me as a parent.  It's a great choice for a Wednesday night or any other night for that matter.

What Happens on Wednesdays. Emily Jenkins; pictures by Lauren Castillo.  Frances Foster Books: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library